Sensory play is usually a phrase associated with toddlers and preschoolers. But I’ve noticed that even my older kids enjoy it, especially when we can take it outside.
What my kids don’t know, though, is that they’re getting time to practice their writing skills. Anything that invites you to draw, write or otherwise create with your hands is a way of making meaning. And isn’t that essentially what you’re doing when you write? Taking in information, processing it, and expressing the subsequent conclusions constructs meaning out of your experiences and ideas. Children practice this skill when they are engaged in sensory play, gathering the material in their hands, experimenting with it, and creating something new.
Here are a few of our favorite activities:
Cutting boards and shaving cream, whipped cream or soap suds: Wet the board, then spray with foam or spread with suds. Draw your fingers through the chosen substance, making shapes, figures, letters, numbers or just plain squiggles. Wash clean with water.
Box or bin with sand: Pour sand to depth of one inch. Use fingers, utensils, sticks, straws, etc. to draw pictures in the sand.
Finger paints and butcher paper: Pour paints into pie tins. Use your fingers, hands, knees, etc. to paint on the butcher paper, or cut sponges into fun shapes and stamp instead. (Find recipes for homemade paint here.)
Food coloring, milk and dish detergent: Pour milk to about a half inch depth in the bottom of a pie tin. Place a few drops of food coloring onto milk as desired. Dip a toothpick into the dish detergent, then draw it through the food coloring. Watch the neat reaction and experiment as the muse directs (here’s an explanation of why this works).
Oil and colored water: Pour half a cup (or more, depending) of light-colored cooking oil into a plastic sandwich bag. Color half a cup of water with desired food color and add to the bag. Seal the bag, then lay flat on a hard surface. Draw your fingers, a fork or some other implement across the bag to see the oil and water mix.
Playdough: This is a versatile medium, as you can roll the dough flat to use as a writing surface or shape the dough into letters and numbers. Roll sections of dough into a pencil shape and grip. Make your own playdough and use those hands to mix, mix, mix!
Found objects: Take a walk and gather sticks, leaves, rocks, acorns, and other natural objects. Use them to form letters, numbers, and shapes. Also try taking pictures of letters and shapes hidden in the natural world.
Squirt bottle sidewalk paint: Pour sidewalk paint into squirt bottles. Write messages to friends and neighbors on the sidewalk or a love note to a family member on the driveway.